Book almost century OLDER than Magna Carta digitised by University of Manchester

An ancient manuscript almost a century older than the Magna Carta has been digitised by the University of Manchester making it available for public viewing for the first time.

The Textus Roffensis, a 12th century legal encyclopaedia was originally two separate manuscripts and contains some of the oldest English law.

The medieval manuscript, written by a single scribe in the 1120s, has been described as ‘Britain’s Hidden Treasure’ by the British Library.

Dr Chris Monk, a specialist at the University said: “To work with this particular national treasure, one of such historical significance, has been remarkable. 

“It will be just as exciting and remarkable for the public to see it up close – no longer a hidden treasure.

“The Textus Roffensis is truly a unique manuscript: it contains the only copy of the oldest set of laws in English, and was penned by an English scribe within 60 years of the Norman Conquest.”

The manuscript has been digitised by The University of Manchester team as part of a community engagement project at the Cathedral.

The first manuscript includes the only surviving copy of the Law of Aethelberht, the King of Kent from 560 to 616AD, and is seen by some as ‘foundation documents of the English state’.

The second part includes the earliest charters of England’s second oldest cathedral – founded at Rochester in 604AD, where the manuscript has been held since its inscription.

Dr Monk added: “The team here has vast experience digitizing rare books and manuscripts.

“That it is being made accessible to the public is worth shouting about, and is a tribute to all those involved with the project.”

The book, which received its name from a 14th century inscription within it, is the only surviving copy of the oldest law in English.

The full inscription ‘Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum’ translates as ‘The Book of the Church of Rochester through Bishop Ernulf’.

A number of pages in the manuscript display signs of water damage after it became submersed in the early 18th century, when it was being returned by boat to Rochester from London.

Janet Wilkinson, the director of the John Rylands Library said: “The University of Manchester Library has long recognised the need to preserve its digital material for future generations.

“I am reassured that this significant piece of history will now survive for future research purposes.”

The Textus Roffensis will go on display in Rochester Cathedral next year, as part of the Cathedral’s Heritage Lottery Fund project, ‘Hidden Treasures: Fresh Expressions’.

Image courtesy of Paul Sieka, with thanks.

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